Former Rep. Major Owens, a New York Democrat who represented Brooklyn for 12 terms and came to be known at the “Rapping Rep” for writing rap lyrics around his political beliefs, died on Monday night. His son, Chris Owens, said his father died of heart and renal failure at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, The Associated Press reported.
An unapologetic liberal, Owens was born in Collierville, Tenn. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta and a master’s degree from Atlanta University, he moved to Brooklyn and became active in community politics, including as the chairman of the Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality, vice president of the Metropolitan Council of Housing and commissioner of the Community Development Agency in New York City. He served in the New York Senate from 1974 to 1982, before being elected to Congress in 1982. He retired after completing his 12th term in 2007.
“I am one of those who is not ashamed to be called a liberal,” Owens said, according to CQ’s Politics in America 2006. “In fact, I am proud of it. I am a liberal, I am a progressive, all of those things that people seem to shrink away from. Our group has not disappeared.”
The “Rapping Rep” tag stuck with Owens after he began putting political content to rap beats for the Congressional Record and on his member website, an appropriate form of expression, perhaps, for a man whose district helped give birth to hip hop.
One of his raps from the 108th Congress, “Stop the War,” is quoted by PIA and starkly illustrates the issues that gripped that particular Congress, principal among them the war in Iraq: “Stop the War/We need the cash!/... Give Medicaid families? All of Rumsfeld’s stash ... Welfare mothers rush to cry/Soldiers from the ranks of the poor will be the first to die.”